One summer afternoon, Hannah mentioned to me an article she’d read, on Mumsnet of all places, discussing something called “Matched Betting”. I hadn’t heard the term before so had a quick look online to see what it was all about.
It didn’t take me long to get my head round the core concepts of matched betting, which is essentially a way to ensure that you never lose by taking advantage of the numerous free bet offers that bookies offer to new and existing customers.
In a nutshell, it’s free cash, but you do have to put the work in and you need to have a good understanding of the methodologies needed to profit. Mistakes can cost you, wiping out day’s or even week’s worth of profit in an instant.
So what actually is “matched betting”?
For context, here is a very simple example of a matched bet. If you’re not interested in the specifics, please feel free to skip this section.
Bookie A offers new customers £30 in free bets when they make their first £10 bet. The key competent in guaranteeing profit is using an “exchange” like Betfair. This is a site (and there are others) where users bet against other users, rather than a bookie and, most importantly, can bet against a result (ie. Man United to not win, which would cover a draw or a loss).
So let’s say that we’re going to be our £10 qualifying bet on Man United vs Chelsea. You find a close match between the back odds (bookie) and the lay odds (exchange) and place, for example, £10 on Man United to win. Using the Exchange you then bet £10 on Man United to not win, meaning you have covered all eventualities and win regardless of the result.
Now obviously, this does not win you any money. In fact, you will make a “qualifying loss”, which is an accepted loss in order to profit in the long run. This can be anything from a few pence to a pound or two.
So after our qualifying bet, we are now a few pennies down on where we started, but now we have qualified for our £30 free bet. For your free bet, you following the same process, but because the free bet does not use any real money, you are guaranteed to make profit after backing and laying. The exact amount to lay is done via complex calculations, but fortunately there are loads of tools on the web that do this calculation for you.
Regardless of the result of your free bet, you should make around £20 profit, once you take off your qualifying loss.
The best deals are always there for new customers, but with countless bookies out there, there is no shortage of deals. Most of them offer what are called “reload offers” too, which are offers for existing customers, though these are rarely as profitable.
Sounds great, what’s the problem?
On my first day matched betting I made £15 profit. By the end of my first week it was £180. My first month pulled in £622. Having used up most of the more lucrative signup offers by this point, the following months saw a slight decline, but it was still a significant amount of (tax free) cash – and I was still a beginner.
Things were going well and I was making good money, but as time went on I found myself spending pretty much all of my free time doing it. It was eating up my evenings and weekends and I pretty much spent my whole day starting at a computer screen (which I do for a living anyway).
After 2 and half months, having exhausted all the signup offers available and been gubbed (excluded from offers and promotions) by a number of bookies, I began to pursue more complicated ways to make money. These involved a bit more thought and required maximum concentration, something which I found out the hard way when betting late on night in November.
Misunderstanding the required calculation, I made my first big error (I had made smaller ones before) and ended up £65 down, wiping out the previous three or four days work in one fell swoop. Matched betting regulars will tell you not to worry about the losses and that you’ll make it back in no time, but for I me I struggled to get over the fact that in one moment of stupidity, I’d managed to wipe out probably 10-15 hours of work that I’d put in over the previous few days, time that could’ve been spent doing something else.
I remember struggling to sleep that night. Losing £60 is hardly life changing, but some reason it kept playing over and over on my mind I couldn’t stop thinking about what I should’ve done to avoid it happening.
As it turned out, I made that money back over the following three days, but this involved placing 53 separate bets on different sporting events – you can probably work out how much time and effort goes into that.
By this point it was really becoming hard work for me to generate noticeable profit. There are ways to make bigger sums with less effort, but I wasn’t really at a point where I wanted to explore these as they typically come with more risk and returns are not always guaranteed.
I could still make £25 a day, but when I stepped back to look at the work that went into it, I probably would’ve been better off spending the evenings working the bar in the local.
The tipping point
Late November, exactly three months to the day from when I started, I made my second big mistake and came away with -£15 after 10 bets. The following day, after just 5 bets I made another and found myself £34 down too.
It was at this point that I decided enough was enough.
I cut my losses, withdrew all remaining balances and set about closing as many of the 66 (!) bookie accounts that I had open as I could.
It still shocks me to this day how quickly I became disillusioned with it all, it was like someone flicked a switch. One minute matched betting was this golden goose, giving me a seemingly unlimited supply of equally golden eggs and the next I couldn’t even bring myself to open the intricate spreadsheet I’d created to keep track of all my winnings.
Since then, I’ve developed a real feeling of disdain towards the gambling industry. I don’t log into to any gambling websites any more, I “hide” or “report” any of the many gambling ads I see on social media is “not relevant” or “inappropriate” and I watched football through gritted teeth as I am bombarded by a constant and unwavering barrage of gambling ads and promotional material.
I wouldn’t say I became addicted to gambling, but I do think that I was starting down a road that was leading me to take more risks and pay less attention to what I was doing in order to maximise my profits.
There is no doubting that matched betting is a legitimate way to make money, whether that be as your sole source of income or just as a little extra spending money for the weekend, and it was great to have more money coming in. Do I see myself going back to it anytime soon? I wouldn’t bet on it…